possible vocabulary games: xu tan language workshop

Xu Tan is a Shenzhen / New York based artist by way of Guangzhou, getting his artistic start as part of the Big Tail Elephant Group almost twenty years ago. From January 22 through March 20 (with a ten-day break for Spring Festival, Feb 1-10), every afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. Xu Tan is holding a language workshop at the OCT Contemporary Arts Terminal, where he discusses various keywords in Shenzhen’s development with invited guests and those who sign up to participate.

Xu Tan’s keywords project grapples with the instability of linguistic meaning in contemporary China. Specifically, Xu Tan investigates how industrial urbanization changes the meaning and relative importance of different words. For example, at Convection, the Dafen International Contemporary Arts Exhibition, Xu Tan installed a mixed media space, where he spoke with different artists and museum visitors about the meaning of words such as, creativity, originality, and copyright. At OCT, the words have been drawn from the Shenzhen public sphere and the interests of the workshop guest.

Why participate in one (or several) OCT workshop(s)?

In the first place, if you go tomorrow or sometime over the next week, you can still sign up to be a special guest and be part of the unfolding of the piece. Second, the workshops model and are a continued effort to perform public intellectual life in the city. Indeed, this weekend’s guest, Zhang Zhiyang (张志扬) is a wonderfully quirky yet erudite philosopher, who had much to say about how western belief in God is the context for our keywords, even when we don’t believe, he argued, westerners are striving to transcend. For him, this makes us interestingly different from Chinese, who “live in the world”. Third, it’s fun to grapple with language in cross-cultural contexts because the misunderstandings, confusions, and heated emotions teach all sorts of unexpected lessons about what we think we mean when we impose our ideas on the world and the world resists classification.

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